It has been nearly four years since Texas hired Shaka Smart in hopes of returning the program to the level of success it enjoyed early in the Rick Barnes era, but that simply has not happened. With the Longhorns having missed the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years, Smart seems to understand his days at Texas could be numbered.
While speaking with reporters on Tuesday evening, Smart admitted the seat underneath him feels rather warm these days.
For the first time, Shaka Smart acknowledged he's on a hot seat. "I know you guys have a job to do, if we don’t play up to expectations, that’s your job," Smart told reporters. "My job is to help them grow as players and block everything out."
— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) March 20, 2019
Texas has not won 20 or more games in a season since Smart took over in 2015. He has an overall record of 66-66 with the team and has not advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Those obviously aren’t the results administrators were hoping for when they hired Smart away from VCU.
Smart’s contract at Texas runs through the 2022-23 season, and it sounds like it would cost the school a lot of money to fire him. He has reportedly turned away interest from other top programs in recent years, but a 16-16 season isn’t going to impress anyone. That includes Smart’s bosses.
Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats may have beaten Texas 71-64 on Tuesday night, but the Longhorns left an impression.
Texas led at the half before losing the lead in the second half. The game was close — just a 3-point margin with a minute and a half left.
After the game, Weber said he thinks Kansas State can be a dangerous NCAA Tournament team.
K-State coach Bruce Weber on Texas: "They’ve got to be the best 14-11, 6-6 team in the country. I think they can do damage in the NCAA Tournament."
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) February 13, 2019
Texas beat Kansas State by 20 in their first meeting, which probably has a lot to do with Weber’s feelings on the matter. Texas also has wins this season over North Carolina, Kansas, and Oklahoma. They’re not a lock for the tournament at this point, but they’ve shown they are capable of big wins and that they’re not an easy opponent.
With conference play now firmly underway in college basketball, we’ve reached a healthy point in the season to start assessing not only how teams stack up this year, but also how they’ve handled the transition into conference play.
Certainly some teams were playing well before the switch and have continued to do so. There’s also, naturally, teams who have done the opposite and struggled versus both non-conference and conference foes.
Then there’s an interesting crop of teams: Those who have seen a difference between their play early in the season and more recently against their league rivals.
While some have improved, perhaps due to a coaching change or a more consistent schedule, the more interesting group is those who were succeeding this season, but have hit a bump in the road now. These are teams whose early non-conference wins led to high hopes and dreams of a run in March. Now with a few conference losses thrown in, their fates have become much more difficult to discern.
Here are nine teams who have surprisingly cratered in conference play.
9. Florida State
The Seminoles entered ACC play riding high. Their only loss came in a tight game against the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats on a neutral court.
Leonard Hamilton has been coaching long enough to know that things would be tougher sledding against ACC competition, and the schedule did his team no favors. Florida State opened conference play with games at Virginia, versus Miami and Duke, then at Pitt.
There’s no shame in losing to Virginia and Duke, two of college basketball’s best clubs. Losing to Pitt and then BC to fall into a 1-4 hole isn’t exactly what Hamilton had in mind.
Thankfully, the schedule lightens up over the next several weeks, by ACC standards. Games against Clemson, Miami, and Georgia Tech could be the chance to bounce back and look like a top 15 team again.
If the Seminoles struggle in that stretch, however, their upcoming trips to Syracuse and Chapel Hill will start to look even more daunting.
Rooting for a team on the NCAA Tournament bubble is a unique experience. Unlike any other sport, teams on the fringes of success pray for a chance to keep playing, with only so much control over the situation. Sure, they could win their conference tournaments, but many face long roads and brutal opponents between themselves and a conference tourney title.
Unlike the first college football team left out of the playoff, most of these teams are supremely flawed. They didn’t win their conference and weren’t ranked near the top of the polls all year. These are teams that just want a chance to prove they aren’t mediocre and make some noise in March. With conference tournaments very much underway, here’s our look at 11 bubble teams hanging on by a thread. Some have a chance to earn their way, but others are already at home, watching and hoping.
1. Notre Dame
The Irish are one of the most interesting bubble teams in years. Notre Dame is only 20-14 on the season, but lost nine of those games without star forward Bonzie Colson. The Irish were also without the services of point guard Matt Farrell in four of the games they lost without Colson. The selection committee has long claimed to take injuries into consideration. Notre Dame will put that theory to the test. Colson and Farrell are both back in the lineup, leading to a win over Virginia Tech early in the conference tournament. The Irish then lost to Duke Thursday, which would have been the kind of win to earn them a bid. Now, like the other teams listed here, they wait.
With a shade over a week remaining until Selection Sunday, teams near the top of the bracket and on the bubble all across the country are looking to make a case to the tournament committee. Conference play is wrapping up and will come to a head during Championship Week. Automatic bids will be handed out to conference champions, while other bids and seeds will be earned in games throughout this week. Every single team playing in a conference tournament has a chance to make their run in March, though these ten have something extra to play for or to prove this week.
The team at the heart of the current drama in the sport is also in a precarious situation in a basketball sense. With head coach Sean Miller embroiled in controversy involving the FBI, wiretapped phone calls, and illegal benefits, the Wildcats have lost three of their last seven games. In addition to questions about Deandre Ayton’s eligibility, scoring guard Allonzo Trier has been suspended for a substance found in a drug test. Trier was cleared to play and scored 18 points Thursday night versus Stanford.
While Arizona has no worries about making the NCAA Tournament, and even their seed won’t be affected too much, their play in the Pac-12 Tournament could speak volumes about their ability to compete for a Final Four. A distracted Arizona team that gets bounced early in the conference tournament would limp into the Big Dance, ready to be picked off in the early rounds.
Texas dedicated its emotional double overtime win over TCU on Wednesday night to Andrew Jones, whose family announced earlier in the day that the guard has been diagnosed with leukemia.
Here was the scene after the 99-98 win over TCU. A few Longhorns players held up Jones’ jersey:
Earlier today, Texas announced star guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Tonight, the Longhorns knocked off No. 16 TCU in double OT. pic.twitter.com/gksD11EcZV
— ESPN (@espn) January 11, 2018
Jacob Young, who had eight points in nine minutes, dedicated the win to Jones and held up his jersey after the game:
— Jeff Barker (@JeffBarker_) January 11, 2018
That was for you brother AJ1 !!! pic.twitter.com/bWXTF9o8JG
— Jacob Young (@YEAHLILJ) January 11, 2018
Texas coach Shaka Smart was especially emotional after the game. He was seen with tears in his eyes and delivered this statement after the game:
"I've been proud of our guys, the way they've fought and battled… Our guys really wanted to win for Andrew. He's the one that's been on our minds and on our hearts… I hope Drew is listening right now and knows we love him." — Shaka Smart
— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) January 11, 2018
Texas is now 11-5 after the win, while TCU drops to 13-3. This was easily the Longhorns’ biggest win of the season, and it all was for Jones.
The University of Texas is launching an independent review of academic services offered by its athletic department in the wake of allegations of academic misconduct.
Texas president Greg Fenves told the Austin American-Statesman on Monday that he has authorized Gene Marsh, a former member and chairman of the NCAA’s Division I infractions committee, to review the alleged instances of academic misconduct by former Longhorns basketball players.
In a report published by The Chronicle of Higher Education last week, three former Texas basketball players — P.J. Tucker, J’Covan Brown and Martez Walker — were all accused of various infractions dating back to 2006.
In one instance, a former academic counselor alleges that a math instructor told him she saw Walker cheating on an exam but did not penalize the player for it. The same counselor said she has reason to believe Tucker received impermissible help while writing a paper as he was preparing for the NBA Draft. Another former counselor admitted he helped write papers for Brown.
Texas has said that it has “no information to suggest” that former coach Rick Barnes, who was fired in March, had any knowledge of academic misconduct during his 17-year tenure with the team.
“We take every allegation seriously, and we are looking into that,” Fenves said Monday. “We felt Gene Marsh will get to the bottom of it, but at this point, I have no concerns there were improprieties. It’s prudent and responsible to look at them in depth.”
Whereas the alleged infractions occurred almost 10 years ago, it is unlikely there is much that can be done about them now.